By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (670 The Score) — Ahead of the Bulls’ contest against the Lakers at the United Center on Friday evening, coach Fred Hoiberg expressed a small measure of dissatisfaction in Zach LaVine’s shot selection in recent games.
Afterward, both were pleased with the decision-making. The trouble was the result.
LaVine had one of the toughest games of his brief Bulls tenure, scoring 10 points on 3-of-17 shooting in his team’s 108-103 loss. His struggles were symbolic of the Bulls’ troubles late, as they went nearly four minutes without a field goal in crunch time after taking a 95-92 lead with 4:11 left.
When it was done, LaVine was left to face the music on a night that included him missing a pair of free throws with 1:14 left and a driving layup with 39 seconds remaining.
“I felt good,” LaVine said. “I just missed a lot of easy shots. That’s the way it goes sometimes. I got to be better, though. Tonight, I sucked. That’s the way the ball rolls, but I can handle a lot of that.”
Now seven games in to his return from ACL surgery and rehab, LaVine believes his conditioning is getting closer to regular form. He played a season-high 25:45 but didn’t cite tiredness as any reason for his poor night. He was on a minutes limit of 26 to 28.
“Every shot feels good that I take,” LaVine said.
LaVine is averaging 13.6 points on 38.2 percent shooting this season, including 36.4 percent on 3-pointers. Pregame, Hoiberg had acknowledged that LaVine was relying a bit much on mid-range shots in the previous few games.
“The thing with Zach is he’s obviously got the ability to make tough shots,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he settled for a couple, especially contested long mid-range, contested long twos. Where we showed him good examples of when he did attack the switch — especially when he got (Joel) Embiid (on Wednesday) switched off onto him — he’s got to get to the rim or make a play for a teammate by drawing the defense and kicking out for an open three. He did settle a little bit, but again, that’s to be expected a little bit right now.”
Hoiberg was mostly pleased with LaVine’s shot selection in this setback, though he added the coaching staff will sit down and watch all of them with him.
“He’s an elite finisher in there in his brief career to this point,” Hoiberg said postgame. “As he gets his legs under him, he will finish those. I’m confident with that.
“Zach’s got good days ahead. He’s been terrific in practice, and he had a couple really good first games. He’s still trying to get his rhythm out there.”
The hurdles in the assimilation process weren’t unexpected. Denzel Valentine (16 points) called it “difficult” for both LaVine and the other Bulls who had previously settled into their rhythms, roles and rotations, but he believes it will turn around soon.
“It’s going to take some time to figure things out, but when we figure things out, we’re going to be dangerous,” Valentine said.
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.